Al Horford

The Sixers played their second scrimmage since play began in the Orlando bubble, losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday afternoon. Let’s dive into what we saw in their second practice quiz.

Contextual Notes

While the first scrimmage was four 10-minute quarters, the second was four 12-minute quarters. So, this was the Sixers’ first realistic dress rehearsal since the regular season was suspended.

Joel Embiid (calf discomfort) missed the scrimmage. He is considered day-to-day, for now. He played nearly 13 minutes in the first scrimmage, and did not appear in the second half of that game. Horford, as one can assume, started in place of Embiid.

First Quarter

  • Brett Brown reverted to his old defensive schemes, dropping Al Horford in the pick-and-roll multiple times to protect the rim. Chris Paul was able to cash in on the naked lanes, converting multiple floaters with ease. Following Billy Donovan’s first timeout, the Sixers adjusted, showing a hedge on the pick-and-roll, noticeably slowing the Thunder’s pace in the half-court.
  • Horford was particularly aggressive with his pressure on Steven Adams, forcing a jump ball under the rim and then making him so uncomfortable with the ball in his hands by the half-court line that OKC had to burn a timeout.
  • Horford grew increasingly comfortable on the perimeter, canning three triples from the right wing in the first six minutes of play. It is worth pondering whether the increased engagement (and success) on defense energized and inspired his play on the offensive side of the court.
  • Norvel Pelle seemingly left a strong impression on Brett Brown in his limited opportunity in the first game, as Brown elected to go with the rookie center, instead of Kyle O’Quinn, as the first big off of the bench. Pelle responded to the elevated role with a pair of blocks at the rim in the opening twelve minutes.
  • Brown closed the quarter with a lineup of Milton, Korkmaz, Thybulle, Robinson III, and Pelle. That lineup produced 4 points, and gave up 7, in 3 minutes and 29 seconds. Assuming that was just a byproduct of Embiid being out, hopefully the audience is never subjected to that grouping ever again.

Second Quarter

  • Brown opened the period with Alec Burks, Thybulle, Simmons, Harris, and Horford. Burks injected life into the offense immediately, scoring 5 points in 4 minutes. Numerous plays were initiated with a Burks-Simmons pick-and-roll, with Burks as the ball-handler and Simmons as the screener. Brown used Burks as the handler in the pick-and-roll heavily in Friday’s scrimmage, and continued on with that theme today.
  • After adjusting with a hedge to stunt the Paul-Adams pick-and-roll in the first quarter, Brown reverted back to the drop coverage. Paul responded with a pair of oops to Adams. I’m starting to think maybe the drop coverage needs to be deleted from the defensive game plan.
  • With the absence of Embiid, Brown moved away from his “Go guy” usage of Ben Simmons. Simmons was receiving passes in the high post, not spacing out to the corner. As a byproduct, he did not attempt a jump shot in the first half. Interesting that Brown elected to re-circuit Simmons’ positioning on the court, as Embiid and Horford play similar games. So, the offense doesn’t have to be run dramatically differently with Embiid out.

Third Quarter

  • Shake Milton isn’t getting comically open looks anymore. His three-point attempts are coming with increased defensive pressure. Nonetheless, Milton has responded, showing an ability to calmly step into the deep ball and knock it down. It is certainly an encouraging indicator that Milton’s torrid stretch in the beginning of 2020 was not a fluke resulting from a lack of scouting intelligence on him, but rather a testament to his upside as a shooter. 
  • Thybulle has shown hints of the work he put in during the quarantine period, as he has begun experimenting with a sharp behind-the-back pull-back crossover. He is struggling to maintain the dribble and often coughs up the ball when trying to retrieve the ball with his receiving hand. But, it’s good to see tangible improvement in his confidence and the beginning stages of a development in his offensive game.
  • The Sixers led by 24 points in the period, and the Thunder were reeling after missing 17 (!!) consecutive three-pointers. The Thunder then connected on three in a row, and the Thunder closed the quarter down just 11. Yet again, the Sixers–albeit, without playing starters–failed to put the finishing touches on a blowout and allowed their opponent to get back into the game.

Fourth Quarter

  • The Sixers ran a pick-and-roll featuring Marial Shayok and Mike Scott, and it resulted in a score. Anything is possible, I suppose.
  • While not connecting on the attempts, Shayok displayed an organic package of dribble moves to create space for his own shot. If Shayok can show the adequate development needed to earn consistent minutes on an NBA roster, that shot-creating package will be invaluable. 

The Sixers will play the Dallas Mavericks at 8 PM on Tuesday evening. It will be their final dress rehearsal before the seeding games begin.